Here's the next installment of our Metallum Nocturne story. If you need to catch up on any of the previous episodes, click here.
Professor Wolfe's office was connected to the foundry by a set of reinforced double doors. Claire went through the other entrance from the outside. Since the accident, and the initial visit, she hadn't wanted to be in the foundry because it only reminded her of the shambles of her life.
"Claire," said Professor Wolfe from behind his desk. He had wavy gray hair and permanent smile lines around his mouth. "How are you doing? I can't imagine how difficult this is for you with the lawsuit and everything."
"That's what I'm here about," she said.
"Are you sure you don't want to talk about you first? I might be a crotchety old professor, but I can see when someone's hurting. You look like you're ready to punch a hole through a wall. Accidents in the foundry, especially when someone dies, can leave slag on the heart. You've got to break that free before you can really live again."
His comment made her realize she'd been clenching her hands into fists. The whole way over to the foundry she'd been thinking about the day of the explosion.
"I didn't sign that approval sheet. I was in the middle of my project and wouldn't have had time to watch a first year."
"Your name was on it," said Professor Wolfe.
"I don't know who put it there, but it wasn't me. That's why I'm here anyway. I want to figure out why my name was on it and who might have put it there."
"Claire," said Professor Wolfe. "I know guilt can be a difficult thing. It messes with the mind."
She pounded her fist on his desk. "I know it wasn't me."
The way he looked at her outburst had her questioning herself.
"I'm sorry, Claire. I would help, but I've already turned over the documents to the court."
"Already? The first court date was only yesterday."
"A courier arrived in the afternoon. I put all the requested documents in the folder and handed them over. From my understanding you can get copies from your lawyer. I've been an expert witness in quite a few trials over the years, so I'm well acquainted with how they unfold."
"I was hoping to see the original sheet."
Claire ran her fingers through her hair. "To see if it was tampered with? I'm not entirely sure really, but I know for certain I never signed it. This isn't a guilt thing, please believe me Professor Wolfe."
His eyes rounded with sadness. "I do, Claire, but it's not me you have to convince."
"Thank you." She took a step towards the door before turning back. "You knew Adolphus, right?"
"I did, barely. He died during my fourth year in the Hall. Was a tragedy on several levels, but thankfully Canterbury was there to take over, or it could have been much worse."
"That's one of the things that I was curious about. When a patron dies, they're no longer protecting their students and the faez blowback often kills some of them. I was reading up on those events recently, but I couldn't find any evidence that a single student had died. Why is that?"
Professor Wolfe's mouth hung open. If he knew that Patron Adolphus still lived then he'd have a difficult time explaining. She watched his expression for clues.
"It's been a long time, Miss Teller," he said eventually. "But I recall we were all really sick. I stayed in bed for a week until Canterbury took over. It could be that the nature of our Hall protected us more than others, but frankly, I was too happy to have survived to worry about why."
She didn't believe him for no reason other than it didn't add up given what she knew about the diary. He was a good professor. One of the best in the Hall. He'd had his name on more research papers than anyone else and was the only one outside of the Patron with both night metal and magesteel experience. He also had a kind heart, which made it hard to accept that he wasn't being truthful about the previous Patron.
"I have a class in a few minutes," he said, rising and grabbing his Kevlar jacket and hardhat from the rack. "Is there anything else?"
She started to say no and then a question appeared in her mind.
"There is one thing. I was doing some research and ran across an account of Patron Adolphus' death. It suggested that it took a few days longer than was reported and that he seemed to be suffering from unique effects from the night metal exposure. Do you know anything about that?"
Professor Wolfe set the hard hat on his head while he glanced askew. "Does this have to do with your accident? Are you suffering from side effects from the exposure?"
"No," she said right away. "But given that I was exposed, I thought I should be on the lookout for any."
He nodded thoughtfully. "Wise...but no, I'm not aware of the former Patron suffering from side effects. I was only a fourth year. It's not like they were telling us much, so if something did happen, I wouldn't have known about it."
She wasn't sure why, but she was certain he was lying. It pained her to think so.
"Thanks Professor Wolfe. I have to get going as well. Thank you for your time."
He headed into the foundry, and she returned to the hallways. The idea that he was holding back information hurt. He was her favorite professor, the one that had taught her more than anyone else. Of course, she had no proof other than her intuition, but given how much time she'd spent with him over the course of her five years at the Hall, she thought it was a valid critique.